“We are witnessing the greatest election fraud in the history of the country, in my opinion in the history of any democracy,” Netanyahu said in comments to legislators from his right-wing Likud party.
“We, my friends and I in Likud, we will vehemently oppose the establishment of this dangerous government of fraud and surrender,” Netanyahu further vowed, stressing, “And if, God forbid, it is established, we will bring it down very quickly.”
The assertions from the Israeli leader follow broken campaign promises from Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, who had pledged not to partner with left-wing, centrist and Arab parties. Bennett announced with Opposition head and Yesh leader Yair Lapid last Wednesday that they had succeeded in forming a governing coalition with factions from across the political spectrum that include with liberal, rightist, nationalist and religious parties, as well as – for the first time in Israel’s history – an Arab Islamist party.
Bennett, who leads a small ultra-nationalist party, responded to the inflammatory remarks hours later in a televised speech.
“Let go. Let the country move forward,” Bennett said, calling on the nation’s longest-serving leader, who has been in office since 2009, not to “leave scorched earth behind you. All of us, the entire nation, want to remember the good you did during your service.”
Under a rotation deal, Bennett will serve first as prime minister, followed by Lapid. While no date has yet been set for the necessary confidence vote by the 24th Knesset to approve the new government, the new coalition partners have called on Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a Likud member and Netanyahu loyalist, to hold the balloting this Wednesday.
The more time that passes before the swearing-in of the new government would afford additional opportunities for Netanyahu and the right-wing public to persuade members of the proposed coalition to bolt.
The latest developments come after an unprecedented and inconclusive 23 March election, Israel’s fourth in two years; exposing deep divisions among the country’s constituents.
Right-wing demonstrations have rallied outside the homes of Yamina party members, hoping to keep them from joining the government.
Security for the prospective alliance members has been bolstered in the wake of serious threats on social media, which have particularly targeted Prime Minister-Designate Bennett.
Amid one of the most politically charged periods in decades, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency issued a rare public warning on Saturday.
“We have recently identified a rise in increasingly extreme violent and inciteful discourse particularly on social networks,” Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman said.
“This discourse may be interpreted among certain groups or individuals, as one that permits violent and illegal activity that is liable, heaven forbid, to reach mortal injury,” he underscored, without mentioning any names.
Argaman advocated that the nation’s political and religious leaders to demonstrate responsibility and tone down potential incitement, stressing that “the responsibility to calm spirits and rein in the discourse rests on all of our shoulders.”
Many Israelis feel the atmosphere is reminiscent to the days leading up to the 1995 assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was shot by a Jewish ultra-nationalist for pursuing a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Israel’s left-wing has long blamed then-Opposition leader Netanyahu for galvanizing anti-Rabin sentiment that culminated in his murder – which the Likud leader has not only vehemently rejected, but repeatedly condemned the assassination.
While condemning current cycle of tension, Netanyahu, reiterated his charge that the Lapid-Bennett coalition is a leftist partnership that would endanger the nation. The 71-year-old leader insists that the alliance is unfit to confront the Iran‘s nuclear development or the Islamist Hamas terror group in Gaza that waged the 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls conflict against Israel last month.
Bennett – who served under Netanyahu as Defense Minister and has long advocated annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) – denounced the Premier’s depiction of the new coalition as being “extreme-leftist” is just “another lie.”
Lapid and Bennett have expressed hope their “unity government” will help to heal deep political divides among Israelis and end hate.
According to the latest opinion poll by Israel’s N12 Television’s Meet the Press on Saturday, 46% of Israelis support the Bennett-Lapid government, while 38% would prefer yet another, 5th election. 15% expressed no preference.
Meanwhile, Israeli police today barred the re-scheduling of the “Flag Parade.” The controversial event is traditionally held on Jerusalem Day, in commemoration of the city’s reunification after Israel captured the eastern side from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. This year’s march, however, came to abrupt halt on 10 May, when Gaza terrorists fired a barrage of rockets that marked the start of Operation Guardian of the Walls.
While the police did not issue an official statement, the head of the far-right Religious Zionist party Bezalel Somtrich declared the decision to cancel the event was handed down by Police Commissioner Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai.
The annual parade of mostly right-wingers follow a route into Jerusalem’s Old City through the Damascus Gate, while cheering and waving Israeli flags, winding through the Muslim Quarter while making their way to the Western Wall Plaza.
Immediately prior to this year’s event, there had been heavy clashes between Arabs and Israeli security forces during observance of Ramadan over the perceived hindering of Muslim rights, combined with protests over a property dispute in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, that lead up to the Gaza conflict.
Hamas threatened to renew attacks if the parade was allowed to proceed.
“We warn Israel, the mediators and the entire world against allowing the march in Jerusalem to proceed towards the al-Aqsa mosque – and hope this clear message is received – so that Thursday does not become a day like May 11, when the first rockets from Gaza targeted the center of Israel,” said senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya.
Organizers of the event expressed disappointment over today’s cancellation and said they will re-apply to hold the event later this week.